I find myself in the rather awkward position of being the father of a teen whose friends — some of them — are now in their first week of classes in their first year of postsecondary studies. As of this week, I can no longer pretend to be that younger, cool guy on my students’ side of “geezer.”
Kidding aside, this is the week during which professors’ well-meaning colleagues, friends, family, and teaching developers forward the annual Beloit College “Mindset List.” The suggestion is usually that the list will help you both to avoid gaffes and, more importantly, to understand your students. If you haven’t seen it, do check it out. You’ll giggle. I do each year. There are some items that cause the shock of nostalgic loss for me (like Number 19: the one about these kids never having coiled a phone cord around their wrists while talking).
While it may be a useful reminder about the cultural referents with which we Gen-Xers and Boomers date ourselves in the classroom, and while I would strongly encourage all of us to get to know as much as we can about what makes all our various students tick, it’s also flawed list. It’s more a set of moving-target signifiers than a symptomatology of a single “mindset.” Most of the list is based on input from Beloit’s own professoriate (some very observant and funny, and others not so much). I mean, it’s not meant to be serious research, but as Linda Holmes (not a relation) notes in her NPR blog entry about it, the list really says more about the list-makers than about the generation born in 1992 (the Class of 2014). Cleverly, Holmes goes back to the original Class of 2002 list and notices several references to the same cultural objects, icons, or memes.
Not to mention that most of my students and most of my son’s friends actually *have* heard or seen the references that the list purports they haven’t. There’s a sort of transhistoricity to popular culture thanks to YouTube and humour sites, and a hunger amongst the young to parry aging earnestness with ironic, savvy referentiality. This is only anectodal, but then again, so is the Mindset List, in the end.